This is the seventh in a series of stories to celebrate the five-year anniversary of Momania. We are flashing back to some of our favorite columns and blogs. I believe this Jan. 13, 2008 column was our first reference on the blog to “helicopter parents” and it certainly wasn’t our last. We debate often the pros of and cons of helicopter-style parenting versus free-range parenting. I am finally admitting to being a helicopter parent, and I am working on it.
By THERESA WALSH GIARRUSSO
Am I helping or am I hovering?
I have been asking myself this a lot lately as my 6-year-old daughter becomes more independent. When should I step in and offer assistance and when should I back off and let her handle things on her own?
A few years back, “hovering” became a bad thing for a parent to do. It was what overinvolved “helicopter parents” did. Originally, the term applied to late-generation baby boomers who were micromanaging their college students’ lives — calling professors to discuss grades, mailing clean laundry to their kids. But then “helicopter parents” started to be used to describe those with young children as well.
I don’t know about you, but I think parents should hover over small children. They need you close by for physical safety and for emotional security.
I am proud to say I am the mother you see walking behind her toddlers on the playground ready to catch them if they fall from the slide.
But how long do you spot for your children? When do you step in to catch them and when do you let them fall — emotionally or physically?
Last Saturday, I had two experiences — one where I think I hovered and one where I think I helped my 6-year-old.
My daughter started winter swimming lessons and Rose’s teacher was asking the class to do a lot of things in the water she had never done before — scary things. He was asking the class to swim down to the deep end and tread water. He was asking them to jump off the diving board and swim the length of the Olympic-size pool. He was asking them to crawl down a pole and touch the bottom of the deep end of the pool. He was asking them to do a sitting dive into the deep end.
I was standing close by during the class so I would know how to reinforce his lessons when we were in the pool later. Each time he asked the class to do something scary, I blurted out to the teacher, “She’s never done that before.”
This was bad in so many ways. I’m sure it let my daughter know that I was nervous and scared for her, which only added to any anxiety she already had. It also may have embarrassed her in front of the other kids.
I was scared, but I should have kept my mouth closed and just watched to see if she needed me.
It turns out she didn’t need me. She was a little pro and handled it all swimmingly. That was hovering in a bad way.
That afternoon, she had a skating party to attend. I kept thinking about what I had done that morning. I wasn’t sure how much she wanted me around at the rink. I didn’t know if she wanted to skate with me or just with her friends. And when I would see her friends skate off, I didn’t know if I should rush over or if she was OK just skating alone.
I made a conscious effort to give her a little space. I would check in with her to see if she wanted me and then would skate off to the periphery. I was close enough that she could signal if she needed me, but I wasn’t cutting in on her time with her friends. I think I found a pretty good balance that afternoon.
Researching the phenomenon of “helicopter parents,” I found several online quizzes that rated if you were helping your kids in a healthy manner or in a way that would prevent them from learning to do things for themselves.
Two quizzes I took said I was giving my daughter enough freedom to learn to make decisions but was there if she needed me. So, I guess I’m doing OK, despite the swimming pool scene.
Are you a “helicopter parent”? Do you hover? What age do you start to back off and give them a little more room?
Friday’s Momania Flashback: Could you have sex for 30 Days straight?